Matt Schaub: We Were This Close
The 2012 Houston Texans set a club record of 13 wins. They also finished the season with a proportional number of reservations about their immediate future.
The doubts affect almost every major position group on the team. Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and cornerback are areas that will be addressed in the offseason.
Some of these needs could be filled through free agency. The Texans, like the most of the NFL, will look to the draft to add talent to their roster.
The order in which Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith go about filling these holes is open to debate. Based on the late-season problems with the passing game on both sides of the ball, the draft should go something along the lines of what follows.
From the big boss Bob McNair to every beer vendor in Reliant Stadium, they all know the Texans are dying for someone to pair up with Andre Johnson.
The first thought is to just get someone to stretch the field. If that were the only qualification, then Terrance Williams from nearby Baylor University would be the obvious choice.
The only problem is Williams led the NCAA in receiving by using his speed to catch up with long throws. To be an every down receiver in the NFL requires the ability to catch the ball over the middle and block when the running plays come over your side of the field.
Enter Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech. He has shown a willingness to do the dirty work in both the passing and running game coupled with the velocity to get downfield.
He looked good enough in Senior Bowl workouts to already capture the attention of the Texans, and should be still be available when the No. 27 pick rolls around.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports also took notice:
The lack of size at the nose hurt the Texans’ pass rush late in the season. J.J. Watt was facing more double-teams and could not get Earl Mitchell or Shaun Cody to draw some additional blockers.
Williams is a 6’2”, 341-pound motherload at the one-technique, and still has the quickness to exploit any of the interior gaps. Hopefully, DC Wade Phillips will be willing to draft a player that does not fit the lithe and lean prototype he prefers at the position.
Matt Miller was one of many who liked what they saw in Mobile:
Keep an eye on my guy Brandon Williams. #66. Best interior lineman here all week.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 26, 2013
His stock may be climbing too fast to still be on the board when Houston selects in the second round. He looks formidable enough to sacrifice their third-round pick and grab him at a higher spot. That should still leave the Texans with a compensatory pick in the third to keep for themselves.
The starting corners are set for 2013 with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph as the incumbents on the outside.
The bigger question involves coverage on slot receivers and shorter routes. Brice McCain was not having his best season when he went down for second half of 2012. His replacement Brandon Harris played like the practice squad player he had been in his brief NFL career.
Alford looked spectacular from the get-go in the Senior Bowl when he returned the opening kickoff 88 yards:
Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford 88-yard kick return in Senior Bowl was good for more all-purpose yards than any other player
— NFL Draft Bible (@NFLDraftBible) January 27, 2013
The book on his cover skills reads like he is just the man to take over at nickel back if McCain falters. Good hips, feet and ball awareness combined with decent size would be an upgrade over the 5’9” McCain once Alford gets some experience.
He could assume the duties as punt returner from Keshawn Martin, allowing Martin to concentrate on playing receiver. The Texans also need an upgrade in the return game.
QB E.J. Manuel had third round written all over him before the Senior Bowl. Then he led the South squad to two touchdowns and received the MVP award.
Now the former FSU Seminole looks to go higher unless he underwhelms the scouts at the NFL Combine. If the Texans retain their compensatory pick in this round and Manuel is still not selected, he could be a steal.
This is another round where Houston could have multiple picks in return for their free-agent losses.
There has been talk that OLB Brooks Reed could be moved inside, meaning Bradie James is headed for his outright release. If the shift in position does take place, Reddick would still be a promising pickup.
He moves better than your average inside man, but needs to improve his tackling. Promote Bryan Braman off special teams, and let the rookie take his place and learn his craft. Then groom Braman for the backup role at OLB.
Aboushi is tall (6’6”) and agile, with enough strength to stand up to power rushers. As with most tall offensive lineman, he has trouble keeping his stance and maintaining leverage throughout his blocks.
The right tackle situation is the biggest sore spot on the Texans’ OL. The second-team All-ACC choice would be a better long-term partner for Derek Newton than the much-traveled Ryan Harris.
If bloodlines count for anything, then McDonald is destined for a long and successful NFL career.
His father is six-time Pro-Bowler Tim McDonald, who lit up receivers from strong safety for the 49ers in the 1990s. T.J may have football in his DNA, but has a ways to go to match his pedigree.
He is more of a downhill, run-stuffing safety as opposed to a roaming attack dog like his dad. There may be just enough cover skills to go along with his 6’2”, 210 pound frame to help out when tight ends are mismatched against smaller DBs.
The Texans are desperate for some size and aggressiveness in the defensive backfield. McDonald already has the former quality, and should be able to provide the latter.
The resident fullback for the Texans is James Casey. As a blocker, he is a great tight end.
Which is another way of saying the man is out of position. Casey can throw a decent block, but his pads are usually too high to do anything more than chip his man.
On top of that, he is up for a new contract. If he proves too expensive to keep, will Tyler Clutts suffice as the next man up?
Boren is an excellent overall athlete like Casey, having played linebacker every so often for Ohio State. But he shines at leading running backs through the line.
Arian Foster was not the same back in 2012 as the previous two seasons. There were problems with right side of the OL and his flirtation with veganism among other issues.
But when Foster had a straight-line fullback clearing the way for him, he was more effective. The losses of Vonta Leach and then Lawrence Vickers were seen in his average per carry, which led to his overuse early in 2012.
A human battering ram like Boren may be just what Houston’s rushing attack needs to lead the way for the rest of the offense.
A seventh-round selection does not feel like a proper substitute for Connor Barwin. But if the Texans are forced to bid free-agent Barwin farewell, there will be a ripple effect throughout the entire depth chart.
It will be further exaggerated should Brooks Reed take over at strong-side ILB. Whitney Mercilus will start in place of Barwin, Braman moves up into the rotation, and some depth will have to be added.
Sabino is good at shedding blockers, covering short receiving routes and shooting into the backfield to bring down runners before they get started.
Which means he is good for the strong side, but may lack the knack for pass rushing expected from an outside linebacker. Point A to Point B speed is not supposed to be his strong suit, although a 4.65 40-yard time might say otherwise.
At 6’3” and 240 pounds, his proportions are not a liability. If he lasts all the way to the seventh round, then something will be responsible for the drop. But Sabino could be the right man in the right place to become a Houston Texan.